Legal Digging Zone
Dogs whose genetics tell them to dig need alternative outlets for their enthusiastic escapades. Replacing the inappropriate behavior with a more appropriate one is the only permanent solution. If digging comes naturally to these dogs, why not provide a safe, legal place for them to dig by making a digging pit?
A digging pit can be any size, but 4" × 4" for small dogs and 8" × 8" for larger breeds can be a general guideline. Use garden timbers to make a box shape and fill the box with sand. You may actually want to dig out the existing soil and make a bed of stone for the bottom to supply good drainage. This way, regardless of the climate, it won't become a mud puddle in inclement weather. Fill the rest of the pit with play sand, the kind used in children's sandboxes. Use a metal rake to evenly distribute the sand.
You may want to invest in a metal rake so that you can clear any uncovered treasure from the digging pit and keep the sand loose and inviting. You may also want to add fresh sand periodically to provide plenty of places to hide new goodies.
Now comes the fun part! Bury toys, bones, rawhide, dog cookies, balls, and other surprises for your dog to find. Make some of the treasures easy to find, others more difficult. The more of a digger your dog is, the more challenging you should make the treasure hunt. Periodically (once a week) you should hide new treasures and rake the pit to remove any old cookies, bones, or other treats. If you are creative in what you bury, your active dog will know exactly where to dig to find the good stuff.
Here are some ideas for buried treasure:
Hard dog cookies
Kongs stuffed with peanut butter and treats
Marrow bones (Buy ones from the butcher; uncooked is safest.)
Rawhide sticks, bones, and chips
Pig ears smeared with cream cheese inside a paper bag
A small cardboard jewelry box filled with treats
A cardboard ice-cream box with treats or a chew toy inside
A favorite toy, like a ball or a stuffed animal, in a paper bag
Regardless of the treasure, be sure it is something that your dog can safely have unattended. Experiment while you are watching him to be sure he doesn't eat anything that he shouldn't (like the paper that you've hidden the tennis ball in). A certain amount of shredding is fine; you just don't want him eating the entire empty ice-cream container.
How do you fill in existing holes?
There are many theories about what to do about the holes that your dog has already dug. Some people leave the holes alone and the dog only digs in the holes he's made. Other people put large rocks in the existing holes before filling them in. Experiment to see what works best for your dog.
Two solutions for digging that work for some folks are to bury some of the dog's feces in each hole, or bury ¼-inch mesh wire about one to two inches under the soil. In the first case, the dog uncovers something she thinks she's buried before. In the latter, when she hits the mesh, she can't go any deeper and gives up.
Regardless of what you try as a solution to stop your canine archaeologist from turning your yard into the Grand Canyon, the only way to really stop a digger is not to give him the opportunity to dig in inappropriate places. Supervise him closely, don't leave him unattended in the yard, and consider building him a digging area of his own. A dog that really enjoys digging will love the opportunity to practice it legally.
You'll notice that there are no suggestions here regarding punishment. Excessive digging is a symptom of a larger problem. Digging is the dog's way of releasing pent-up energy, boredom, and frustration. Alleviate your dog's boredom by signing him up for fun obedience classes or by taking a class to teach your dog tricks or agility, and be sure to regularly provide stimulating toys that he doesn't see every day. If you are creative in providing lots of stimulating activities for your dog, you will be rewarded with a calm, more content family pet and a lot fewer holes in your backyard.